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THEATER REVIEW

'Cherry Orchard' Ripe to Pick but Out of Grasp

March 20, 1998|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — Played with skill and understanding, the works of Chekhov offer insights into loss, delusion, love and compassion that compare with--and often transcend--the art of Shakespeare.

Yet played carelessly, an evening with Chekhov can be torture. Director Frederick Ponzlov's staging of "The Cherry Orchard" at the New Community Theatre fails because it denies the audience a glimpse of the playwright's humanism.

One can only guess what direction Ponzlov gave his actors; either it was useless, and the unskilled actors had to make things up along the way, or it was valuable, and the actors ignored it. The latter seems unlikely, as Ponzlov himself appears unconvincingly as old, doddering Firs, manservant of the fading estate owned by Lyuba (Cynthia Saxon).

"The Cherry Orchard" is not merely the story of a formerly wealthy family shutting down its home, but also of an era of stratified classes shutting down for an unknown future, represented by professional student Petya (Michael Stute).

Petya's lofty platitudes and desire to be "above love" with Lyuba's daughter, Anya (Fatima Agah), conceal abject fear. This fear, mixed with regret, is the subtle dynamic under the placid surface, making "The Cherry Orchard" one of the stage actor's supreme challenges.

To watch such nuanced art flubbed here with pervasive overacting, barely audible mumbling, clumsy attempts at comedy and false emotion is to wonder how Ponzlov and company thought they could begin to do justice to such a great play.

* "The Cherry Orchard," New Community Theatre, 2025 Alton Parkway, Irvine. Tonight-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m. Ends Sunday. $8-$10. (714) 650-2058. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

"The Cherry Orchard,"

Cynthia Saxon: Lyuba

Warren Herr: Lopahin

Michael Stute: Petya

Fatima Agah: Anya

Maeva Garrett: Varya

Lawrence Malone: Gaev

Bill Word: Semyon

Carol Crockett: Charlotta

Jonathan Bonuan: Epihodov

Frederick Ponzlov: Firs

Anton Chekhov's drama, directed by Frederick Ponzlov. Set: Ponzlov. Lights: Leroy Donald. Costumes: A.O. Stytchanay.

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